Ars Praedicandi: The First Sunday of Advent

The following homily was preached by Rene McGraw, OSB, on November 27, 2016, St. John’s Abbey:

The first reading begins with an invitation to all of us—young and old, Father Don with his cane, Father Kieran and Kilian and Knute with their walkers, the youngest Hemesath boys, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists—Come one and all.  “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”  Come you poor, come you rich; come you Native Americans, come you whites and blacks, come; come you African-Americans, come one and all, come let us walk up the mountain side together—and there at the top, there we shall all join together to sing our Hallelujahs.   That’s our Advent.  That’s our journey toward the top of the mountain.

And so as Christians began this arduous climb following in the path of Jesus, almost immediately the Christians begin pushing the Jews off the road and the Jewish people returned the favor.  “Yes, I know that Isaiah says that we are climbing to the God of Jacob, but that’s now our God, say the Christians and the Jews.  We are the truth-keepers; we are the guide to the road that goes up to the mountain.  We Christians, not you, are the keepers of the truth—not just part of the truth, but the whole truth.  We are the Advent people.  You had your chance.  Now it’s the Christians turn.”  Pogroms.  Holocausts.  All in the name of Jesus, even though Isaiah had said that on this mountain the swords would be beaten into plowshares.  And we say, yes eventually, but not yet.  A few more pogroms, a few more holocausts.  And the Israelis begin pushing the Arabs and the Muslims further and further away from the water along the Jordan.  And everyone kills.

And on another path going up the mountain, the Muslims and the Hindus forget Gandhi and their own apostle of non-violence, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and push and shove each other and kill.  And kill.  And Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan climb on non-violently, Muslim and Hindu, Amish, and Mennonite and Quaker watch Catholics and Protestants kill each other in the name of truth.  We must preserve the truth.  We are the guardians of the truth, the whole truth, the complete truth, nothing but the truth.  It is our sacred duty to keep all those who do not understand truth in the same way as we do, we must keep them off the sacred mountain.

And all of these great religions, shout out, “We have the truth, the whole truth.  We are the repository of truth. You can’t climb the sacred mountain without a passport from us.  You’re a Shiite?  Too bad; it’s only we Sunnis that have the right answer, and so you Shiites can’t climb the mountain, and if you try to climb this sacred mountain it is our duty to kill you.  In the name of truth.  You’re a Lutheran—well your truth is not the same as ours as Catholics.

I love Gandhi’s description of truth.  Truth is a giant tree, a giant oak.  And there it stands at the top of Isaiah’s mountain that we are all climbing.  Majestic. All the time it is fall and spring on that holy mountain.  All the time there are leaves falling from the tree of truth, and all of us, Catholic Christians, Lutheran Christians, Mennonite Christians, we all scurry around picking up these leaves from the tree of truth.  And there are the Muslims and the Jewish believers and the Hindus all picking up leaves.  And as each of us pick up a leaf, we shout out, now I have the complete truth, and we kill some more because the others don’t accept our leaf of truth.

And that doesn’t mean that all the leaves will be true.  There will be some that blow on to the mountain from other trees, trees that might lead us astray.   A leaf that tells someone to kill Muslims or to kick them out of the country; a leaf that tells me that abortion is ok; a whole bunch of leaves that seems to blow down in the United States say, “Greed is ok,” so close your eyes to the poor, they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Or some of us say, “Shooting blacks is alright,” Or we find ourselves saying, “Don’t worry about the rest of the world, everything for America.”  These are leaves that have blown in from somewhere.  But they are not the leaves from the great oak of truth.  Those leaves need to be resisted.  Sometimes with rage, sometimes quietly, and probably never with violence, but they need to be resisted.

And so what does that tell us about Advent?  Let us climb the holy mountain.  Let us get to that place where the lion and the lamb lie down together.  Let us come to a place where no one shall ever again be killed in the name of truth or to protect our businesses.   Let us like Odysseus plant the oar from the ship that has taken us to war.  Let us beg pardon of the Lord, who is the truth and the life and who never killed a single Pharisee or a Roman procurator in the name of truth.

Advent is all about the thirst we experience as we climb to the top of the mountain.  That long desire to make sense out of all the misery and joy of life.  Keep walking.  Bad heart, good heart, keep climbing.  At the end of the journey there will Jesus be standing to welcome Hindu and Buddhist, Jew and Muslim, Christian and atheist, all who have felt that longing to find a true homeland, all who kept walking.  Let us walk together, my brothers and sisters.  Let us keep walking.

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